Bulletin N°429



20 December 2009
Grenoble, France

Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
Our meeting in downtown Grenoble last Wednesday, 16 December, was an interesting off-campus experience. The last-minute change of venue caused some people to arrive late, after 20h30, while several others failed to find our table at Le Tonneau Philosophical Café. I apologize for the inconvenience, but the restaurant La Table Ronde unexpectedly put a note on their front door stating that ordering a full dinner was required for entry into their establishment after 18h. After speaking with the bar tender, I attached a note on the door, next to their note, stating that the CEIMSA meeting would take place at Le Tonneau, where we could have our discussion on "the state of American Studies in French institutions," over a cup of hot tea. Some of you were unable to find us on that very cold night, and for this I apologize.

About eight of us finally gathered around cups of steaming tea and coffee for a very animated exchange on topics, ranging from the founding motivations of American Studies in French universities just after the Second World War; to the profound effects of the debacle of the Soviet Union on French political culture; to present-day ideological battles against neo-liberalism and heightened alienation in French society, both on and off campuses. There was a general agreement among us last Wednesday night that the work of intellectuals today must take into account a higher degree of social context and historical background (emphasizing social science theories from disciplines such as economics, sociology, social psychology, political anthropology, etc.) in order to address pervasive ontological problems that undermine our work, so that we can be more effective culturally. There was general agreement as well that rhetoric and belles lettres should play a minor role in American Studies programs. Several experienced teachers were present to enrich our historical perspective of American Studies programs in French universities.

Toward the end of our discussion, I offered an analysis of the 2004 liquidation of CEIMSA at Stendhal University. It could be understood, I argued (borrowing concepts from Michael Mann's research in, The Sources of Social Power), as part of the context of different overlapping social power networks: (1) an aggressive network of neo-liberal economic power that has displaced the French Welfare State ; (2) ideological sources of power that have also produced a new network that intellectually disarms much of the French population --including many on university campuses-- who for more than half a century grew accustomed to the state welfare policies which arose out of the historic compromise with Cold War relationships in France; (3) this political compromise, however (since the end of the Soviet Communist era), has ceased to serve French capitalist interests, and gradually it is being replaced by a modified political network of social power, the logistics of which include French institutional settings where a series of opportunistic tactics geared to individual ambitions have been put in place to deliver the information, manpower, and commodities necessary to maintain capitalist production ; while (4) military sources of social power are pursuing self-aggrandizing engagements with NATO forces. In brief, our highly visible research center at Stendhal University, operating as a social space, was an early target of the new orientations of overlapping, intersecting social power networks, issuing from economic, ideological, political, and military power resources. In this context there was simply no reason to allow CEIMSA to exist. The power shift in France, already in 2004, was at a stage where it had revised its social power networks in a way that assured public acquiescence to the will of a few well-oriented opportunistic leaders, who occupied specific social and geographical spaces and who were prepared to pursue their individual ambitions within the constraints of this new control over economic, ideological, military, and political resources.

Before our meeting ended at Le Tonneau Café, we also discussed the phenomenon of what is described today on campuses as student apathy, and in society at large as public indifference. These frail feelings (or lack of deep feelings) very likely stem from the sense of powerlessness that is reinforced in each of us every day. A Bureaucratic machine, characterized my automatic behavior (and what French critics have called, la langue de bois), now governs the lives of most of us. The feeling of ineffectualness, of hopelessness, affects our memory and our ability to think rationally. Responding to signals instead of to symbols and signs, we assume an automatic behavior where memory and reason serve little purpose, and where a fourth capacity of the human brain, will power, is increasingly diminished, toward a vanishing point.

To paraphrase the radical neurologist Antonio Damasio in his ground-breaking report on recent research, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain(1994), a culturally impoverished environment --where emotionally competent experiences are rare or non-existent-- has an organic effect on the human brain causing a reduction of feeling and a paucity of ideas. Under such conditions, the necessary bio-chemical stimuli and neural synapses are simply not available to activate the individual brain. Instead, the victims of this environment find themselves sleepwalking through their lives, not noticing what is around them, and much less how they might interact with their environment to improve it. Rather than living in a convivial community --responding to one another and constantly creating new opportunities for each other-- they live instead on automatic pilot, with a carefully cultivated sense of exclusiveness, "protected" from emotionally competent experiences and carrying with them a few received ideas constantly manipulated by remote control. [For more information on Dr. Damasio's research of the faction of the human brain, see past CEIMSA Bulletins, including the 11 October 2008 CEIMSA Bulletin # 371.]

This Orwellian description of "post-modern" society offers little hope outside individual initiative, from which social class consciousness and revolutionary awareness might emerge. This conundrum was observed by Karl Marx when he wrote in his Theses on Feuerbach (1845) :

Thesis #1

The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism – which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such.

Le principal défaut, jusqu'ici, du matérialisme de tous les philosophes – y compris celui de Feuerbach est que l'objet, la réalité, le monde sensible n'y sont saisis que sous la forme d'objet ou d'intuition, mais non en tant qu'activité humaine concrète, en tant que pratique, de façon non subjective. C'est ce qui explique pourquoi l'aspect actif fut développé par l'idéalisme, en opposition au matérialisme, ­ mais seulement abstraitement, car l'idéalisme ne connaît naturellement pas l'activité réelle, concrète, comme telle. Feuerbach veut des objets concrets, réellement distincts des objets de la pensée; mais il ne considère pas l'activité humaine elle-même en tant qu'activité objective. C'est pourquoi dans l'Essence du christianisme, il ne considère comme authentiquement humaine que l'activité théorique, tandis que la pratique n'est saisie et fixée par lui que dans sa manifestation juive sordide. C'est pourquoi il ne comprend pas l'importance de l'activité "révolutionnaire", de l'activité "pratique-critique".

. . .

Thesis # 3

The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.

The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.

La doctrine matérialiste qui veut que les hommes soient des produits des circonstances et de l'éducation, que, par conséquent, des hommes transformés soient des produits d'autres circonstances et d'une éducation modifiée [1], oublie que ce sont précisément les hommes qui transforment les circonstances et que l'éducateur a lui-même besoin d'être éduqué. C'est pourquoi elle tend inévitablement à diviser la société en deux parties dont l'une est au-dessus de la société (par exemple chez Robert Owen [2]).

La coïncidence du changement des circonstances et de l'activité humaine ou auto-changement ne peut être considérée et comprise rationnellement qu'en tant que pratique révolutionnaire.


Where does one begin to train for the human capacity to imagine the unimaginable and to appreciate the unconventional? The French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre, discussing "bureaucratic society" in his book, Everyday Life in the Modern World (1971), wrote that :


...the only system sufficiently comprehensive to be worthy of the name is the system
of substitutes (le système d'alibi) --so comprehensive, in fact, that all 'theories', 'analyses'
and 'inquiries' risk turning into substitutes to save trouble and uphold a 'system' that only
exists in words!"
Contemporary critical Marxists, writes Howard Sherman, are more empirical that their orthodox Marxist predecessors. Rather than using the map of social theory to inspect the social terrain, they inspect the social terrain to alter their theory so as to enable them to more effectively interact with the institutions and behavior patterns which govern them. Thus Marxist youth groups, Marxist feminists, the Marxist labor movement, radical antiracist theory, gay liberation were among the alternative views of Marxism already before the debacle of Soviet Marxism. From almost the beginning a dizzying number of Marxisms has flourished. Professor Sherman provides the list from which contemporary critical Marxism has sprung:

Maoist Marxism; Trotskyist Marxism (e.g. the writings of Ernest Mandel); Yugoslav Marxism; Eurocommunism; the Marxian theories of Georg Lukas, Rosa Luxemberg, and Antonio Gramsci; Freudian Marxism; existentialist Marxism (e.g. the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre); phenomenological Marxism; the Marxism of Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt school . . . ; New Lest Marxism (which resulted from the resistance to the Vietnam War); Marxian structuralism; Althusserian Marxism; Marxian feminism; Analytic Marxism; postmodernist Marxism; and even deconstructionist Marxism. Each of these contributed something to the contemporary Marxian approach and to the project of creating as consistent and sharp radical tool of analysis. In short, a renaissance in Marxian thought began in the late 1950s and has continued until today. . . The old Soviet Marxism is mostly dead, but a critical, non-Soviet Marxism is flourishing.(Reinventing Marxism, 1997) (p..8)

Systematizers, such as Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim, writes the non-Marxist British sociologist Michael Mann, had to ignore much everyday data that simply did not fit into the structure of their concepts. "Reality is messy!" observes Professor Mann , and he turns to "the greatest sociologist," Max Weber, for a method that would take into account "messiness." Mann claims that Weber's method using "ideal types" can provide "proximate answers" to questions by devising "concepts suited to dealing with a mess."(The Sources of Social Power, Vol. I, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p.4)

Mann finds it more useful in understanding power relationships to shift from the concept of a  "capitalist system" and "social class structure" to the interaction of "power networks" in a specific social space at a given moment. The four sources of social power in these overlapping networks, he writes are : economic resources, military resources, ideological resources, and political resources; and he traces the interplay of these networks back to egalitarian prehistoric humans, before the aberrant appearances of stratified "civilizations" which occurred in perhaps only three, and no more than six, small areas on the earth, beginning as recently as five thousand years ago. Mann rejects the notion of society as a structural entity and civilization as the product of evolution.

On the other hand, a Marxist critique of Mann's work may have produced new insights into Marxist methodology. It is available in An Anatomy of Power: The Social Theory of Michael Mann, edited by John A. Hall and Ralph Schroeder (Cambridge University Press, 2006, 409 pp). Do the multiple crises we are living today expose the proverbial glass of water as being half empty, or is it half full? Do these perception games make a difference? Is each of us living a life which is somehow incorporated into power networks, inevitably engaged to act out his/her role by agreeing and disagreeing more or less automatically? Or are we looking at a system from the outside, free from all constraints to observe its constituent parts with detachment and objectivity? [For a very useful discussion of Marxist methodology, see NYU Professor Bertell Ollman's highly original contributions to Marxology.]

The 7 items below offer CEIMSA readers an opportunity to test their theoretical knowledge of Systems and/or Networks to determine which concept provides the greater explanatory power of the social debacle we are now witnessing in the USA and abroad.

Item A. is a Democracy Now! video link to the talk by British author Tariq Ali at Hampshire College, discussing the Obama calamity in Afghanistan.

Item B. is a video link to The 5th Annual Edward Said Memorial Lecture by Noam Chomsky, delivered at Columbia University School for International Affairs on 3 December.

Item C., sent to us by Queens College professor John Gerassi, is an Internet link to the San Francisco State University strike that aims at a national student-worker mobilization on 4 March.

Item D., from the Council for the National Interest Foundation, is the radio broadcast of "Jerusalem Calling", featuring this week an interview with Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy.

Item E., from Information Clearing House, is Jeremy Scahill's recent article on hidden U.S. Statistics after the invasion of Iraq.

Item F., sent to us by The University of Pennsylvania Professor Edward S. Herman, is an article by former UN arms inspector, Scott Ritter, on US military ethics in the age of high-tech warfare.

Item G. is a report from GRITtv on Thomas Frank's new book, "The Wrecking Crew," which describes results of the ideological power network of neo-conservatives in the hinterlands of the USA overlapping economic power network of neo-liberals in Washington, D.C.

And finally, we conclude this CEIMSA bulletin with the latest edition of William Blum's publication :

Anti-Empire Report
(December 9, 2009)

and a summing up of the Copenhagen fiasco by :

The Real News Network
December 19, 2009


Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble 3

from Tarq Ali :
Date: 9 December 2009
Subject: The future of U.S. presence in Afghanistan..

Tariq Ali is author of more than 20 books, including history, politics, and fiction. His most recent books are Protocols of the Elders of Sodom (2009) and The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (2008). He is a regular contributor to The Guardian, New Left Review, and the London Review of Books.

British-Pakistani writer, journalist, and historian Tariq Ali spoke at Hampshire College on November 17 for the the Twelfth Annual Eqbal Ahmad Lecture. The annual Eqbal Ahmad Lecture honors the teaching, scholarship, and activism of the late Eqbal Ahmad, who was a longtime Hampshire College professor.

TARIQ ALI: "Obama's Afghan-Pak Syntrome"

from Noam Chomsky :
Date: 17 December 2009
Subject: The culture of imperialism.

Noam Chomsky delivers the 5th Annual Edward Said Memorial Lecture: The Unipolar Moment and the Culture of Imperialism at Columbia University School for International Affairs.

NOAM CHOMSKY: "The Unipolar Moment and the Culture of Imperialism”

from John Gerassi :
Date: 10 December 2009
Subject: Video SF State Students Occupy Business Building To Protest Fee Increases & Defend Public Education.


Take a look at this report. Below is information on the beginnings of an important student-worker alliance in San Francisco, which seeks to build for a nation-wide strike across the United States on March 4.

"SF State University students occupied the Business School and hundreds of students supported the occupation on December 9, 2009. They spoke about the attack on their right to an education through privatization and massive fee increases. They also said they were fighting not only for themselves but for their brothers and sisters in this struggle to have access to public education. (Produced by Labor Video Project, P.O. Box 720027, San Francisco, CA 94172 (415)282-1908) www.laborvideo.org www.laborvideo.blip.tv "

SF State Students Occupy Business Building To Protest Fee Increases & Attack On Public Education



SFSU Students & Faculty Protest Budget Cuts

from CNI :
Date: 10 December 2009
Subject: The "Jerusalem Calling" radio show.

CNI Jerusalem Calling with Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy

Our "CNI: Jerusalem Calling" radio show is picking up steam. On Thursday, Dec. 10, Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy will join host Alison Weir to discuss the social and political climate in Jerusalem

The show will be aired live online from Noon to 1 pm EST (5 pm to 6pm GMT). To listen and join in, go to www.wsradio.com/cni and click on the "Listen Live" button for Studio A, at the top left. To call in to the show with questions, call toll-free: 877-474-3302. International users can join the conversation using Skype by entering WSRADIOSTUDIO into the dial box.

Also, don't miss next week's show! Harvard Professor and co-author of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy", Stephen Walt, will join CNI Executive Director and host, Helena Cobban, to discuss how U.S. Middle East policy is formed and implemented.

"CNI: Jerusalem Calling" is a Washington-based, internet radio talk-show that is a project of the CNI Foundation. We encourage listeners to call in and participate in the discussion by dialing toll-free 1-877-474-3302

from Jeremy Scahill :
Date: 18 December 2009
Subject: Hidden U.S. Statistics after the Invasion of Iraq.

Contrary to popular belief, the US actually has 189,000 personnel on the ground in Afghanistan right nowand that number is quickly rising.


Stunning Statistics About the War Every American Should Know
by Jeremy Scahill

 A hearing in Sen. Claire McCaskills Contract Oversight subcommittee on contracting in Afghanistan has highlighted some important statistics that provide a window into the extent to which the Obama administration has picked up the Bush-era war privatization baton and sprinted with it. Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department of Defenses total workforce, the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history. Thats not in one war zonethats the Pentagon in its entirety.

In Afghanistan, the Obama administration blows the Bush administration out of the privatized water. According to a memo [PDF] released by McCaskills staff, From June 2009 to September 2009, there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan.  During the same period, the number of armed private security contractors working for the Defense Department in Afghanistan doubled, increasing from approximately 5,000 to more than 10,000.

At present, there are 104,000 Department of Defense contractors in Afghanistan. According to a report this week from the Congressional Research Service, as a result of the coming surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, there may be up to 56,000 additional contractors deployed. But here is another group of contractors that often goes unmentioned: 3,600 State Department contractors and 14,000 USAID contractors. That means that the current total US force in Afghanistan is approximately 189,000 personnel (68,000 US troops and 121,000 contractors). And remember, thats right now. And that, according to McCaskill, is a conservative estimate. A year from now, we will likely see more than 220,000 US-funded personnel on the ground in Afghanistan.

The US has spent more than $23 billion on contracts in Afghanistan since 2002. By next year, the number of contractors will have doubled since 2008 when taxpayers funded over $8 billion in Afghanistan-related contracts.

Despite the massive number of contracts and contractors in Afghanistan, oversight is utterly lacking. The increase in Afghanistan contracts has not seen a corresponding increase in contract management and oversight, according to McCaskills briefing paper. In May 2009, DCMA [Defense Contract Management Agency] Director Charlie Williams told the Commission on Wartime Contracting that as many as 362 positions for Contracting Officers Representatives (CORs) in Afghanistan were currently vacant.

A former USAID official, Michael Walsh, the former director of USAIDs Office of Acquisition and Assistance and Chief Acquisition Officer, told the Commission that many USAID staff are administering huge awards with limited knowledge of or experience with the rules and regulations. According to one USAID official, the agency is sending too much money, too fast with too few people looking over how it is spent. As a result, the agency does not know where the money is going.

The Obama administration is continuing the Bush-era policy of hiring contractors to oversee contractors. According to the McCaskill memo:

In Afghanistan, USAID is relying on contractors to provide oversight of its large reconstruction and development projects.  According to information provided to the Subcommittee, International Relief and Development (IRD) was awarded a five-year contract in 2006 to oversee the $1.4 billion infrastructure contract awarded to a joint venture of the Louis Berger Group and Black and Veatch Special Projects.  USAID has also awarded a contract Checci and Company to provide support for contracts in Afghanistan.
The private security industry and the US government have pointed to the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker(SPOT) as evidence of greater government oversight of contractor activities. But McCaskills subcommittee found that system utterly lacking, stating: The Subcommittee obtained current SPOT data showing that there are currently 1,123 State Department contractors and no USAID contractors working in Afghanistan. Remember, there are officially 14,000 USAID contractors and the official monitoring and tracking system found none of these people and less than half of the State Department contractors.

As for waste and abuse, the subcommittee says that the Defense Contract Audit Agency identified more than $950 million in questioned and unsupported costs submitted by Defense Department contracts for work in Afghanistan. Thats 16% of the total contract dollars reviewed.

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the international best-seller Blackwater: The Rise of the Worlds Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine and a correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now! He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill has won numerous awards for his reporting, including the prestigious George Polk Award, which he won twice. While a correspondent for Democracy Now!, Scahill reported extensively from Iraq through both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

from Ed Herman :
Date: 10 December 2009
Subject: Our Murderers in the Sky

A very fine piece by Scott Ritter, devastating on U.S. policy and the Obama speech.
ed herman

Our Murderers in the Sky

by Scott Ritter

War is hell, as the saying goes. Murder, on the other hand, is a crime. In this age of the “long war” pitting the United States against the forces of global terror, it is critical that the American people be able to distinguish between the two. The legitimate application of military power to a problem that manifests itself, directly or indirectly, as a threat to the legitimate national security interests of the United States, while horrible in terms of its consequences, is not only defensible but mandatory.

The true test of a society and its leaders is the extent to which every effort is made to both properly define a problem as one worthy of military intervention and then exhaust every option other than the use of force. It is true that President Barack Obama inherited the war in Afghanistan from his predecessor and therefore cannot be held accountable for that which transpired beyond his ability to influence. But the president’s recent decision to “surge” 30,000 additional U.S. military troops into Afghanistan transfers ownership of the Afghan conflict to him and him alone. It is in this light that his decision must be ultimately judged.

In many ways, Obama’s presentation before the Long Gray Line at West Point, in which he explained his decision to conduct the Afghanistan surge, represented an insult to the collective intelligence of the American people. The most egregious contradiction in his speech was the notion that the people of Afghanistan, who, throughout their history, have resisted central authority whether emanating from Kabul or imposed by outside invaders, would somehow be compelled to embrace this new American plan.

At its heart, the strategy requires a fiercely independent people to swear fealty to a man, Hamid Karzai, whose tenure as Afghanistan’s president has been marred by inefficiencies and corruption (even Obama was forced to acknowledge the fraudulent nature of the recent election which secured Karzai’s second term in office). Trying to reverse centuries of adherence to local authority and tribal loyalty with the promise of effective central government would represent a monumental challenge for the most efficient and honest of Afghan leaders. That we are attempting to do so behind the person of Karzai represents the height of folly.

For any military-based solution to have a chance of succeeding, we would need to deploy into Afghanistan an army of social scientists capable of navigating the complex reality of intertribal and interethnic relationships. They would require not only astute diplomatic skills that would enable them to bring together Hazara Shiite and Pashtun Sunni, or Uzbek and Tadjik, or any other combination of the myriad of peoples who make up the populace of Afghanistan, but also an understanding of multiple native languages and dialects. But the reality is we are instead dispatching 20-year-old boys from Poughkeepsie whose skill set, perfected during several months of predeployment training, is more conducive to firing three rounds center mass into a human body.

The nation-building or “civilian strategy” <http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/12/01/afghanistan.key.points/index.html> envisioned by President Obama, impossibly ambitious even under the most ideal conditions, simply cannot be achieved with the resources at hand, whether in 18 months or 18 years. That he has chosen to place at risk the lives of even more American troops, and by extension the citizens of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the pursuit of such unattainable ambition is inexcusable.

The American military is unmatched in its ability to wage war. If the problem of Afghanistan was able to be defined in military terms alone, then perhaps Obama’s surge would provide the basis of a solution. But the Afghan problem has never been a military problem. The United States has, from the very beginning of its Afghanistan misadventure, sought to define the mission within the overall context of a “war on terror.” But the real mission revolves more around bringing to justice the perpetrators of mass murder and building international consensus to help prevent another such crime than it does any variation of closing with and destroying an enemy through firepower, maneuver and shock effect, which is the traditional core of any military operation.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, created problems best dealt with through diplomacy, law enforcement and intelligence. That the United States chose to define it instead as an act of war means that we have never assembled the tool set necessary to solve the Afghan problem, which explains a recent admission by U.S. military officers that, after eight years of war, America was at “square one” in Afghanistan.

Obama’s characterization of the threat faced by the United States and its allies in the expanded Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) theater of operations is as misleading as it is inaccurate. There is no singular, homogeneous enemy to be confronted by a surging U.S. military. The notion that the Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida fighters operating in both countries are part of an overarching Islamic fundamentalist movement seeking to export violence to the shores of America is fundamentally wrong. While the president may in fact have seen intelligence information (of undetermined veracity) that shows that some individuals or groups operating in the Af-Pak area of operations have in fact plotted such attacks, to characterize these players and their actions as representing a majority (or even significant minority) opinion among the thousands of fighters opposing the United States and its allies is just plain wrong. Yet, having accepted the definition of the Af-Pak problem in military terms, Obama had no choice but to accede to the solutions put forward by such charismatic military leaders as Gen. David Petraeus (the commander of U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM) and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

It is not just that generals such as Petraeus and McChrystal dominate the public face of military leadership in America today. The real problem is that the organization they represent, CENTCOM, dominates the entire U.S. military­and, by extension, the U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex­as no other unified command has done in U.S. history. Even at the height of the Vietnam War, the demands of the Military Assistance Command-Vietnam (MACV) on the U.S. military establishment had competition from U.S. European Command, U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Pacific Command, because of the Cold War. Today, the only show in town is CENTCOM, given that its theater of operations encompasses the principal zones of operation in the “war on terror.”

The requirements of CENTCOM drive nearly every aspect of the U.S. military today, including training, procurement and operations. Even strategic nuclear forces have had their work impacted by the need of CENTCOM to strike deep underground targets associated with Iran’s nuclear program. Given the inherently militarized nature of the “war on terror,” CENTCOM has supplanted the Department of State as the “face” of America in terms of official interaction between the United States and the nations of an area of operations ranging from Africa to Pakistan.

CENTCOM therefore dominates issues such as economic assistance and other nation-to-nation interaction not normally associated with military operations. The combined military-diplomatic-economic activity associated with the work of CENTCOM provides it with unmatched leverage at home and abroad. While not intended as a direct result of the “war on terror,” CENTCOM has morphed into a virtual nation-state, operating largely independent of traditional checks and balances associated with the functioning of unified military commands.

Despite the command’s unprecedented power and influence, it would not have been all that difficult for Obama to stand up to the pressures brought to bear by CENTCOM in regard to Afghanistan. He is, after all, the commander in chief. The fact is, Obama opted out of any serious opposition to the plan for the most base of reasons­politics. Any serious effort on the part of Obama to meaningfully contest the CENTCOM-backed surge in Afghanistan would have triggered a contentious political struggle with both the military and Congress at a time when the president is pushing for passage of health care reform, the centerpiece of his domestic policy agenda. The reality is that, yet again, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are being sacrificed for the political advantage of an American politician. This was a charge that was all-too-popular during the administration of George W. Bush. That such an accusation can so readily be applied to Barack Obama, after only a year in office, underscores the magnitude of the failure of leadership and imagination he has exhibited when it comes to the Af-Pak surge.

This lack of imagination was most evident in how the president sought to justify the Af-Pak surge. “This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al-Qaida,” he said in his West Point speech. In addition to his gross oversimplification of the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and its relationship with al-Qaida, Obama felt compelled to press the same fear-induced 9/11 buttons that were the trademark of his predecessor. “It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.”

The continued focus on hunting down Osama bin Laden further underscores the lack of sophistication of his strategy. It is likely that bin Laden was not the central force behind the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States, contrary to popular opinion. That honor goes to Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s Egyptian associate whose radical Islamic fundamentalist credentials trump even those of his better-known Saudi Arabian partner, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaida operations chief currently in U.S. custody awaiting trial in New York.

That bin Laden was complicit in the 9/11 attacks, and should be held to account for his crimes, is not a question. But the notion that by somehow “getting” bin Laden the United States would break the back of al-Qaida today is absurd. People should start thinking about the day after bin Laden dies. Al-Qaida cells will continue to function as they did the day before bin Laden died. The biggest measurable change will be the level of popular support for al-Qaida worldwide­it will skyrocket as bin Laden’s myth and demise inspire many thousands to join in a global jihad against the West and encourage fundamentalist Muslims from state and nonstate players alike to contribute countless more millions of dollars to underwriting this effort. There can be no greater boost to bin Laden’s cause than America’s continued singular focus on bringing him in, “dead or alive.” The exclusive militarization of the ongoing “hunt” for bin Laden plays directly into the Saudi terrorist’s game plan.

Revenge is not a defensible motive for a nation like the United States. Justice is. De-linking our hunt for bin Laden from the failed (and flawed) vehicle of the “war on terror” would be a wise move, but one that sadly is not going to happen in the foreseeable future if the rhetoric of Obama at West Point serves as a guide. And, in a nation that continues to be gripped (and manipulated) by the horrors of 9/11, it remains to be seen whether the concept of justice, as defined by American law, ideals and values, can ever be applied to the perpetrators of that crime. The trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will serve as a litmus test in this regard. Given America’s track record to date in handling the alleged 9/11 mastermind (the water-boarding of Mohammed 183 times continues to boggle the mind), it is hard to anticipate his exposure to the American legal system as anything but a kangaroo court.

The “war on terror” has shredded the concept of the rule of law, at least as applied by the United States within the context of this struggle. While Obama has made moves to fix some of the symptoms of the flawed policies of his predecessor, the underlying foundation of American arrogance and exceptionalism from which such policies emerged remains unchanged. There is no more telling example of this than the current program of targeted assassination taking place under the guise of armed unmanned aerial drones (also known as remotely piloted vehicles, or RPVs) operating in the Af-Pak theater of operations.

All pretense of either Afghan or Pakistani sovereignty disappears when these drones take to the air. Ostensibly used for intelligence gathering and lethal direct-action operations against so-called high-value targets (i.e., senior al-Qaida or Taliban leadership), RPV missions have become increasingly popular within the U.S. military and intelligence communities as a risk-free means of bringing maximum harm, in highly discriminatory fashion, to the enemy. Expansion of the United States’ RPV effort in Af-Pak has become a central part of the surge ordered by Obama, complementing the 30,000 combat troops he has ordered deployed to the region. But exactly who is targeted by these RPV operations? While the U.S. military and intelligence community maintains that every effort is made to positively identify a target as hostile before the decision to fire a missile or drop a bomb is made, the criteria for making this call are often left in the hands of personnel ill-equipped to make it.

In the ideal world, one would see the fusion of real-time imagery, real-time communications intercept and human sources on the ground before making such a call. But in reality this “perfect storm” of intelligence intersection rarely occurs. In its stead, one is left with fragmentary pieces of data that are cobbled together by personnel far removed from the point of actual conflict whose motivations are geared more toward action than discretion. Often, the most critical piece of intelligence comes from a human source who is using the U.S. military as a means of settling a local score more than furthering the struggle against terror. The end result is dead people on the ground whose demise has little, if any, impact on the “war on terror,” other than motivating even more people to rise up and struggle against the American occupiers and their Afghan or Pakistani cohorts.

Supporters of the RPV program claim that these strikes have killed over 800 “bad guys,” with a loss of only about 20 or so civilians whose proximity to the targets made them suspect in any case. Detractors flip these figures around, noting that only a score or more kills of “high-value targets” can be confirmed, and that the vast majority of those who have died or have been wounded in these attacks were civilians. In a conflict that is being waged in villages and towns in regions traditionally prone to intense independence and religious fundamentalism, distinguishing good from bad can be a daunting task. Given the U.S. track record, under which tribal gatherings and family functions such as weddings have been frequently misidentified as “hostile” gatherings and thus attacked with tragic results, one is inclined to doubt the official casualty figures associated with the RPV strikes.

Rather than furthering the U.S. cause in the “war on terror,” the RPV program, which President Obama seeks to expand in the Af-Pak theater, in reality represents a force-enhancement tool for the Taliban. Its indiscriminate application of death and destruction serves as a recruitment vehicle, with scores of new jihadists rising up to replace each individual who might have been killed by a missile attack. Like the surge that it is designed to complement, the expanded RPV program plays into the hands of those whom America is ostensibly targeting. While the U.S. military, aided by a fawning press, may seek to disguise the reality of the RPV program through catchy slogans such as “warheads through foreheads,” in reality it is murder by another name. And when murder represents the centerpiece of any national effort, yet alone one that aspires to win the “hearts and minds” of the targeted population, it is doomed to fail.
Scott Ritter was a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of “Target Iran” (Nation Books, 2007).

from GRITtv :
Date: 11 December 2009
Subject: Ideological power networks overlapping economic power networks described in "The Wrecking Crew."

The ideological shift in institutions these days is fairly palpable for most of us. This power shift in the Culture Wars, toward neo-conservative ideas, and its link to neo-classical economics, is the subject of Thomas Frank's new book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation, which the author discussed last Friday with Laura Flaunders on GRITtv.

Thomas Frank : Can Obama fix what is wrong in Washington?